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From Student to Speaker – Inspiring the Artists of Tomorrow

From Student to Speaker

By Christopher Pickhardt

I was invited to speak at my Alma mater, William Paterson University, as part of a panel discussion with other alumni, where we would share our achievements since graduation with students and elaborate on how we incorporated all we learned at the University into our careers. This enlightening event took place yesterday in the shadow of New York City in Wayne, New Jersey – just a short ride over the George Washington Bridge.

This engaging conversation between my fellow alumni and I and the crowded room of students (of varied majors) and faculty, was immensely enjoyable. There were three of us seated at the front of the Martini room (William Paterson’s cozy multi-media theater) in Hobart Hall aka the Communications building and we couldn’t have been more diverse in our chosen professions, yet as similar in our stories. We took turns telling our tales, reviewing our days at the University and each imparted tidbits of useful information and wisdom to these young studious minds.

The students were privy to the “war stories” of a career broadcast journalist who had most notably reported from the Wall Street trading floor on 9/11 and from the front lines of 2005’s Indonesian and Indian Tsunami disaster, where she stayed for seven weeks. The kids also heard from a career salesman and marketing guru who moonlighted as a children’s author – all after serving in the Marines when he was young. And they heard my story, as an actor, a writer, filmmaker and freelance videographer.

It was truly a privilege to be able to go back in time for a moment and recount my days in William Paterson’s Hobart Hall and praise the professors whom inspired me – like Chriss Williams, my film-making professor or John Rhodes, my adviser and journalism professor who helped me secure my internship at Late Night with Conan O’Brien when he was still at NBC in new York. These two pros, among others, showed me that you can make a difference in the world and provoke a spark within the artist that will eventually produce the grand flames of creativity within.

I was able to share my experiences as a struggling actor, filmmaker and freelance videographer and how important it is to remain focused on your career path. I answered many questions on craft, technique and especially how I market myself in the fast-paced world of social media we are currently in right now, where self-promotion is absolutely vital because nobody will work as hard for you as YOU.
Additionally I broke down my daily, weekly and monthly routines and how they related to my overall BIG PICTURE goals. How it is so easy to fall into the time-wasting traps that the internet offers and how fast we can slip into procrastination.

And lastly I explained how vital it was to ensure that an artist not only considers oneself a business person but that the artist dutifully maintains his creative endeavors in a manner that works AS a BUSINESS, and not merely as a hobby. This is of paramount importance if one wants to not only be successful, but desires to be seen as a creative professional and hence, taken seriously within the industry.

If there was one piece of advice I was able to relay to the students that for me, held real value was simply how important it was to believe in yourself. If you do not believe in yourself and your ability to achieve your dreams, nobody will. My belief in my talents, my dedication and passion are what have guided me on my journey through the failures and successes and kept me afloat during the hard times when it seemed my career aspirations were out of reach.

I also said to them how special it is to be an artist and how audacious it is to pursue a career in the arts, where the odds of success are often spewed onto the budding artist with the grimmest of patinas, yet it is the inherent rebellious nature of the artist to face the obstacles and naysayers with a stiff upper lip and proceed forward regardless – for the artistic hunger will surely override the roadblocks that the real world enjoys throwing at the creative soul.

In all, it was a great feeling, being up there with my peers in front of all those students during our afternoon panel discussion and later on during an evening panel as well, where I was the sole speaker. It is my hope, that together, the three of us left these kids with a sense that it IS possible to achieve success if you are willing to put in the work, to take the time to hone whatever craft is relevant to your chosen profession and how necessary it was to find a strong work ethic; which they must develop in school because it is the discipline that will follow them throughout their life in all their various endeavors. If they could take away even a morsel of these themes from our discussions and apply them to their lives, there is no reason that one day they could not end up sitting in the very seats we were sitting in, speaking to a future generation of William Paterson students about THEIR success. That would make me very happy.

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